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Priest catches a tractor ride to give Sunday service in flooded village

By Western Daily Press  |  Posted: December 03, 2012

  • Curate Jess Pitman surveys the scene near Muchelney

  • Rev Jess Pitman gets a lift from farmer Richard Hodder

  • Cyclists in deep trouble in Muchelney, South Somerset

  • The builders of the ancient church of St Peter and St Paul, and its adjoining abbey, knew – seemingly better than many modern developers – that building on a flood plain was a bad idea and both escaped the floods

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A priest took to a tractor to defy the floods and reach her flock in the marooned village of Muchelney as the skies cleared but waters remained stubbornly high.

The Reverend Jess Pitman, curate in the Langport team ministry in South Somerset, accepted a lift from farmer Richard Hodder yesterday to take the morning service in the village and meet parishioners, many of whom have been cut off for a week.

Muchelney is Saxon for “Big Island”, a name that proved particularly apt during what is reckoned to be the worst flood for nearly 90 years. Other families in the scattered community also took to tractors to join the congregation.

Churchwarden Elizabeth Nightingale said: “We usually have a congregation of around 16 but because of the floods we are also having a get-together in the church afterwards with nibbles.”

The builders of the ancient church of St Peter and St Paul, and its adjoining abbey, knew – seemingly better than many modern developers – that building on a flood plain was a bad idea and both escaped the floods.

Farmer Richard England, who runs Thorney Lakes, is playing host to his daughter and her family after their own farmhouse played host to six inches of muddy water. The family, including two young children, do not know when they will be moving back.

Villagers were last week dependent on volunteers from Burnham Area Rescue Boat and Wessex 4x4 emergency volunteers to bring in vital supplies, while on Saturday the Environment Agency also brought a boat to help out.

Flood warnings remained in place last night for the River Yeo from Yeovil to Langport; Salt Moor and North Moor and Moorland, the Upper Avon from Amesbury to Salisbury, South Winterbourne Valley, River Parrett at Langport’s Westover trading estate, the A361 East Lyng to Burrowbridge, Curry Moor and Hay Moor and the lower Frome from East Stoke to Wareham.

And already stretched fire services reacted with frustration at motorists ignoring closed roads and putting themselves in danger for no reason after they had to rescue a driver from a flooded A361 at Burrowbridge on Saturday night.

Rather more safety-concious was experienced sailor Roger Ferrier, who thanked the stars for his lifejacket when his dinghy capsized in the flood-swollen waters of the river Axe. Mr Ferrier, 72 spoke of the importance of every sailor wearing a jacket after his lucky escape at Uphill, Weston-super-Mare. He managed to grab a ground line and drag himself to shore.

A short time later a passing Sea King helicopter from Royal Naval Air Station Yeovilton spotted the upturned dinghy in the Bristol Channel and reported it to Swansea Coastguards. Mr Ferrier, who is an RNLI shoreline team member, had already told Coastguards that he was safe.

Burnham-on-Sea RNLI volunteers recovered the dinghy 12 miles downstream.

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